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Robert S. McNamara, World Bank President: April 1, 1968 - June 30, 1981

Document of the Month

Robert S. McNamara, 1981

Robert S. McNamara became World Bank President on April 1, 1968 and served two full five-year terms and a partial term, leaving on June 30, 1981. When McNamara came to the World Bank, it was lending about $1 billion per year.

When he left in 1981, Bank lending stood at about $12 billion a year. In addition to the dramatic increase in volume of loans, McNamara refocused Bank lending beyond infrastructure and projects to basic human needs and poverty reduction. The Bank that McNamara left in 1981 was completely transformed from the institution thirteen years earlier, when he became President. It was a much larger organization, and much more complex.

McNamara's Annual Meetings speech in Nairobi in 1973, when he first used the term "absolute poverty" was a turning point in his presidency. He proposed forming the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), which makes major contributions to increasing global food production and reducing hunger.

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Message to World Bank staff, May 1968 (International Bank Notes, 1968)

He mobilized Bank resources to launch an international onchocerciasis (river blindness) control program. And in 1978 the World Development Report, the Bank's flagship publication on development issues, was launched.

The strengthening of the research staff stimulated interaction with the academic community and allowed the Bank to claim a role as an intellectual leader in development matters. The World Bank was, to McNamara, "an innovative, problem-solving mechanism…to help fashion a better life for mankind in the decades ahead."

From the Opening Statement by Mr. George Woods, President of the World Bank Group at a meeting with the press, Washington, D.C., November 30, 1967: “Both the Executive Directors and I are enormously pleased that Secretary McNamara has agreed to serve as the fifth president of the World Bank. In my judgment, the problems of economic development, which is the Bank’s principal business, are one of the two or three most important influences which will determine the course of international events over the rest of this century. Secretary McNamara has for a long time had a deep interest in these problems and he will bring to them qualities of creative imagination and leadership that are unexcelled."

Document of the Month

Mr. McNamara at the UNCTAD meeting in Chile, April 1972

"In unanimously selecting Secretary McNamara, the Executive Directors – who represent 107 countries – have, I believe, recognized that the United States nominated one of its outstanding public servants to lead this world organization."

"More than any man I can think of, Secretary McNamara can give the Bank group of institutions the impetus that will enable them to continue to meet with increasing effectiveness their world-wide responsibilities. I feel entirely confident in turning the presidency of these institutions over to him.”


More Resources on Robert S. McNamara

Video Tribute in Honor of Robert S. McNamara (Produced by Corporate Communications based on the World Bank Group Archives' records) 

Biography of Robert McNamara - 5th President of the World Bank Group, 1968 – 1981

90th Birthday, Robert S. McNamara, World Bank Group President, 1968-1981  

Robert S. McNamara at the World Bank Group: a chronology of significant events (PDF, 23.5 KB)

Pages from World Bank History: Bank pays tribute to Robert McNamara  

Address to the Board of Governors by Robert McNamara, President, World Bank Group, September 24, 1973  

Pages from World Bank History: The Fight Against Riverblindness

This feature is produced by the World Bank Group Archives to highlight the World Bank's contributions to development.

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